As I was walking along the castle walls here in Rethymno, I realized I forgot to blog about a fantastic experience I had in Rome. It’s amazing how things that would ordinarily be the highlight of the month have at times become almost daily travel occurrences and blend into the background noise.
While in Rome, Lander and I stumbled across handouts for several operas being performed in one of the cathedrals located near the central train station. Eager to mix things up and sample something different we selected the more diverse of the two programs and found our way to the church that evening. The building was beautiful. It had Moorish influences with a fantastic roof design painted to look like a starry night. In the dome over the dais there was a beautiful depiction of a non-crucified Christ accompanied by angels. Perhaps the most impressive part of the simply decorated cathedral was a small set of 2 thin-cut marble windows and another beautifully presented piece of thinly sliced marble at the very back of the dais. I’m not sure what to call it other than marble-like stained glass – but that’s deceiving. Where stained glass windows had once been there were thinly cut pieces of marble. Each window consisted of two pieces, one mirroring the other and creating winglike patterns. The central piece was the most captivating in that it was back-lit and a horizontal cut brought out the inner color and shapes in the stone creating what looked like a sunset with rays of light bursting through clouds. It was such an fantastic piece that it looked 3d.
The opera was good, though not incredible. There were 2 male and 2 female performers who took turns singing solo pieces with one or two mixed. Of the 4, one older gentleman was terrific, the other male was horrible and the two women, while not exceptional, were enjoyable. The total performance lasted about an hour and a half with intermission. It took advantage of the cathedral’s acoustics. All in all the experience was enjoyable. The music was enchanting and it was a great change of pace from our typical evening activities.
Back to Greece!
After finishing my last blog in Chania, Lander and I found dinner and then set out to hit up the town. The evening started fairly similar to the night before as we quickly got ushered into one of the bars by a street promoter promising free drinks. We struck up a conversation with one of the bartenders – a girl from Sweden working for a few months in Chania then traveling. Before long we built a decent rapport and decided to take a break to see if we could connect with the guys back in the states. We hit up the internet cafe, then Lander decided to turn in. I was feeling energized so I returned to the bar and picked up my conversation with the bartender. Time slipped by, I ordered a beer and had several more provided for free by the promoter or the bartender. A bit after 1:00, a few of her friends showed up with one of her co-workers who was off that night. The other two girls were Finnish and Swedish and the guy was from New Zealand.
We all got acquainted and by 3:00 am, as the bar closed, after dancing for a bit (got some Latin in!) we moved over to the bar where Lander and I had spent the bulk of the previous night. There the Romanian bartender remembered me and demanded I join her for a drink. Afterwards we all socialized, danced and relaxed until about 5:30AM when the bar closed. As everyone put stuff up I decided to leave and hang out by the harbor to get some fresh air and sober up a bit before turning in.
I’ve never really figured out why (maybe it’s because I wear my watch on the wrong wrist?), but gay guys tend to hit on me fairly often. It’s never really phased me, if anything I take it as a compliment of sorts, but it still throws me off a bit. I only mention it because as I was sitting down by the dock sobering up a scooter pulled up with two guys on it. I’m a bit on edge because it’s late at night and I’m halfway expecting I’m about to get robbed. Instead, the two guys proceed to try and pick me up, then offer me drugs, before trying to pick me up a second time. After spending a good 5 minutes trying to get rid of them, they finally left. Slightly traumatized I decided to turn in and call it a night. Normally, I’d consider the story to be unblogworthy, but because of what happened in Paleohora the following day I’m gonna go ahead and include it.
The next morning Lander and I woke up fairly early and caught a bus across the island to a small town on the south shore called Paleohora, which we had been told had interesting architecture and was beautiful. Despite being less than 50km to the south, the bus ride took about two hours – which other than my hangover – was great. The bus ride wound up into the mountains and along the mountainside through several medium-sized gorges. The hillsides along the gorges were extremely steep but still terraced in many places. Any remotely flat areas were covered with olive orchards. Several of the steeper areas had also been cleared into fields where sheep grazed. The day was a beautiful partly cloudy dream. Large fluffy clouds regularly shot rays of light down onto the countryside. Because of the light and the somewhat glossy nature of several of the shrubs everything seemed a vibrant green, broken only by the jagged white rocks protruding from the shrubs and the golden-hued trees that dotted the small washes and dry river beds. A number of the small green bushes had berries which were a vibrant red and looked delicious. The rock formations were fierce looking…almost like a white lava. They are sharp…pitted by water, rain and snow in a way that leaves cutting edges and circular indents in the stone.
Eventually we wound our way through the mountains and found ourselves at Paleohora. We disembarked on the main street and immediately had to make a decision. The sign in front of us read <–Beach–> and pointed in both directions. A terrible quandary to face ehh? As it turns out, the city sits on a peninsula and we had been dropped off about halfway up it. We chose left, which dumped us out on a beautiful pebble stone beach. The stones were all decent sized and there was almost no sand. As a result, as the tide washed in it would push stones forward, then as the wave pulled back out the pebbles would fall on each other creating a quiet thunder as they banged and slid back down. It was astounding and fantastically melodious. We paused, took it in, relaxed and then set off to walk out the peninsula following the coast road.
After leaving the pebble beach we found a small market and picked up some fresh fruit and a tin of sardines. We walked out to the tip of a large cement dock and sat down to eat our snack. From our perch on the dock we were able to see down through the crystal clear water to the sea floor some 15 feet or so below us. Along the edge of the dock were several large schools of different types of fish. As we sat there throwing in small pieces of banana, orange, kiwi and sardines, the fish schooled to nibble at the food. About 10 minutes after we arrived an old Greek man appeared. This is where the story I was writing about earlier comes into play. He was dressed traditionally like most older Greek men, missing most of his teeth, and he walked with a cane. He hobbled up and said something in slurred Greek. Because of his missing teeth and the way he talked, I doubt I’d have been able to understand him even if I spoke Greek. Never the less, he gestured as we talked and we carried on a brief conversation.
From what we could piece together he was an old fisherman who had had to stop fishing because of an accident which damaged both of his knees, but, in his youth he had caught a lot of big fish out on the sea. We offered him a tangerine as we apologized in English for not being able to speak Greek – all of which was fairly normal and made for a good story. That’s where it got really odd, however. After his fishing story he pointed at the two of us, said something, made a weird inquisitive face then in response to our blank looks held out his two hands in pointer position, then rubbed the two back and forth in parallel side-to-side. Not sure what he was asking or getting at, I decided to play dumb, shrugged my shoulders, made an apologetic face, then said, “Oh, we’re American” – as usually when people ask something odd it’s a cultural question or they want to know where we’re from. He talked again briefly before ambling back up the dock to a chair in front of one of the houses a ways back where he sat staring out at the sea. It wasn’t until after he left, as Lander and I were walking back up talking about the old guy, that I asked him, “Is it just me or did he just ask us if we were gay and hit on us?” It turned out he had gotten the same impression. We tried to think of some other meaning behind the hand motion and couldn’t figure anything out. All around quite the odd day, that made two times in a 24 hour period I’d been approached in some shape or form on a dock…maybe there’s some unspoken Greek rule we should have been told about?
Anyhow, from there the road wrapped around the ruins of an old Venetian castle before turning into dirt at the point which was just open land with a small building or two and a number of goats and chickens. As we followed the track back around the other side, we passed the harbor and eventually ended up by the large sandy beach which was on the other side of the peninsula. There we paused before exploring the town and ordering a horrible meat plate. Disappointed, I pulled off a small piece of hamburger, wrapped it in my napkin and stuck it in my pocket to feed the cats later. As in Chania, there were cats everywhere, some were well fed, others looked fairly thin – despite this, as we left the restaurant and walked around (we had an hour to kill before our bus arrived) there was not a cat to be found. Amazed, I finally gave up and was complaining to Lander about how they had all vanished when I tossed my remnants at a large open trash bin. My aim was poor, it hit the side of the bin, teetered for a moment and fell to the ground. At the same moment there was a huge commotion and a cat flew, practically vertically, up and out of the dumpster. It turns out it had been rummaging inside for food and I’d scared it when I hit the can with the meat. Laughing at the irony, I unwrapped the rest and tossed it to the cat.
The next morning we got up and caught the bus to Rethymno. We arrived at 3 or so and made our way to a hostel noted in the book. By 5, we had two beds, though we were extremely disappointed by the quality of the hostel and atmosphere. Committed to one night, we decided we would switch back to a cheap hotel the next day. We explored the town briefly before finding a nice place for dinner and sampling some of the local cuisine. We found a reasonable restaurant and ordered a delicious meat & artichoke plate which was as tender as could be and came with a side of sliced potatoes. From there we explored the nightlife briefly before turning in and getting a horrible night’s sleep on the nasty hostel beds.
The rest I’ll have to pick up tomorrow. Until then!